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The Long Good Friday

Most powerful scene: ironic
From a British perspective, part of the fun of watching this is seeing people who later became famous for other roles. Derek Thompson had had a minor role in Yanks, and this suggested he had a bright career in films, but he ended up playing nurse Charlie Fairhead in Casualty, and has now played that part for 23 years! Gillian Taylforth became better known in EastEnders, and Paul Barber was in Only Fools and Horses, but returned to the big screen in the Full Monty.

Some of the violence in The Long Good Friday is very graphic; the scene in which Harold (Bob Hoskins) ends up glassing his sidekick Jeff (Derek Thompson) after the latter had betrayed him is VERY nasty.

Helen Mirren is now an international star. Here she is supposedly playing a gangster's moll, but where she doesn't simmer with sexuality ("I want to lick every inch of you", says Derek Thompson in an unguarded moment in a lift), she shows that she has as much control over Harold (Bob Hoskins) as he has over everybody else, never more so than in the immediate aftermath of the glassing scene. It is a tour de force in a supposedly supporting role.

But this film undoubtedly belongs to Bob Hoskins. Despite the violence, it is the film's climax which is the most memorable and chilling scene. Hoskins is held at gunpoint by a silent and menacing IRA gunman played by a young Pierce Brosnan. This takes place in a car driven by another IRA hit-man. The camera focuses in close up on the face of Bob Hoskins for over a minute, while the very catchy theme music plays, and while Hoskins, without a word of dialogue, goes through a whole raft of emotions, showing a man struggling to accept that he is finished, but is finally resigned to his fate. This is a magnificent performance.

Play for Today: The Flipside of Dominick Hide
Episode 8, Season 11

Don't make a film
This was a delightful time travel play from 1980, beautifully played by the main actors, and including clever references, and even a sly note about attitudes to homosexuality.

One person mentioned about making this a film with Jim Carrey. I think that would be a dreadful mistake. For one thing, Peter Firth's Dominick is a bit odd in 1980, rather than the madcap zany character in many of Carrey's roles. Secondly, the whole production is understated, the only music being Beatles music played by a futuristic hologrammatic trio, and an undistinguished theme song.

Appropriately, this, together with its less successful follow up, Another Flip for Dominick, is definitely "of its time", and should be left alone, but the BBC should repeat both, and on a mainstream channel rather than BBC4, on which they were recently shown.

Goodnight Sweetheart

Underrated fantasy sitcom: later Yvonne more sympathetic
The pleasure of this series is watching all the cast play a pure fantasy absolutely straight, a critical hurdle for the show's credibility. We are therefore left with one basic premise: this is about a time travelling bigamist! From 1997, the roles of the two women in Gary Sparrow's life were taken over by different actresses. Elizabeth Carling (who became better known as Celia in Casualty) followed Dervla Kirwan's gentle homely portrayal of Phoebe, but when Emma Amos took over Yvonne from Michelle Holmes, the character became softer and more sympathetic, while paradoxically becoming more successful in the era of New Labour (you could argue that the series says as much about the 1990s as it does about the war years).

I agree with the poster who said that the series lost its way a little towards the end, with one episode in which Gary goes the wrong way through the time portal and ends up being accused of a murder committed by Jack The Ripper. Worse still was one with a dream sequence in which Phoebe and Yvonne force Gary to choose between them.

It was correct that the series ended with the end of the war, and that the viewer should be left to speculate about what happened to Gary, Phoebe, Michael and Reg in the past, and Yvonne, Ron, Stella and Reg's grandson in the present. It could however be said that there's something of a political statement in the idea that all along Gary's mission in the past was to save Clement Attlee, thus giving Britain a very progressive Government.

Very enjoyable though.

Hancock & Joan

Brilliant performance from Maxine Peake, but.....
Maxine Peake showed her abilities with a terrifying performance as Myra Hindley. Considering she was opposite Jim Broadbent as Lord Longford and Andy Serkis as Ian Brady, that took some doing.

Here, she steals the show with a spellbinding turn as John Le Mesurier's wife Joan. Unfortunately, this drama is out of kilter with the rest of The Curse of Comedy series. All the others cover a timespan during which the subjects were at their peak of success. This covers a two year period several years after Tony Hancock was one of the biggest stars on UK TV with Hancock's Half Hour and Hancock, and also after his unsuccessful film career. The events in this dramatisation bring matters to the conclusion of Hancock's lonely suicide in Austratlia. The death scenes were unsatisfactory, as Hancock sees a ghostly image of Anthony Aloysius St John Hancock, the character from East Cheam which brought him fame and fortune.

A pity we didn't see Ken Stott saying "A PINT? THAT'S VERY NEARLY AN ARMFUL!"

The Golden Shot

Slight corrections
I must slightly correct my fellow poster. True, this was naff, but the first host was not Bob Monkhouse, but Jackie Rae. Also, only old fogies like me remember that the original catchphrase was "Heinz The Bolt", before Bernie came along, although I vaguely recall Heinz making a comeback for one show.

Part of the show's charm, apart from its naffness (many things went wrong when it was on live), was Anne Aston's struggles with mental arithmetic!

Oddly enough, this is one show which I would love to see return, but sadly I don't see it happening. 30 years on, I suspect the "powers that be" would be too safety conscious about cameras dressed up as crossbows!

It Happened One Christmas

A turkey
Allow me to correct two misconceptions from other posters. Firstly, to describe Marlo Thomas as more animated than Jimmy Stewart is fantasy of the highest order. Secondly, anyone who dares to describe It's A Wonderful Life as sickeningly sweet is missing the point completely. What's sickeningly sweet about a man who is frustrated at every turn in his efforts to leave his home town? What's sickeningly sweet about a man who is on the verge of suicide because of the threat of prison, bankruptcy..? What's sickeningly sweet about going around your home town and nobody knowing you, and your town has changed for the worse? Having asserted the brilliance of Jimmy Stewart (one of the greatest actors of all time) and It's A Wonderful Life, let's turn to It Happened One Christmas. The idea of turning the original concept on its head, so that Mary becomes the main character (with Peter Bailey as her father, and a younger brother called Harry who becomes a war hero) is interesting. Unfortunately, I couldn't avoid comparison with the original. Nevertheless, a reasonably gifted actress might have been able to convey some of the raw emotion evident - to most people - in Jimmy Stewart's portrayal. Alas, Marlo Thomas is so bad that she reminds me of the inadequacies of the worst of Demi Moore. But there are other problems. James Stewart was supported by other talented actors in 1946. Here, even the presence of Orson Welles as Mr Potter does not compare with the sheer nastiness which Lionel Barrymore brought to the part. Cloris Leachman gamely tried her best with Clara, but the whimsy of Henry Travers as Clarence is in a different league.

For me, It Happened One Christmas fails on every level. Maybe there's a case for a remake of It Happened One Christmas. Unlike its illustrious source of inspiration, It Happened One Christmas can only improve with a remake.


OK video and DVD, but see the show live first.
This my favourite STAGE musical. It was my first three-dimensional theatrical experience, by which I mean that the barrier between performers and audience is broken. Many of the cast come on stage through the audience, and venture out at various moments. When I first saw Cats, I was disconcerted when one of the cast stroked my back before going on stage, and it must be quite unnerving to have someone in character a couple of feet away from you staring at you and reciting The Naming Of Cats. The character of Macavity appears in the circle a couple of times. Cats is also the only musical I have ever seen where a character remains on stage throughout the interval (Deuteronomy), and members of the audience can talk to him.

The music, singing and dancing are all wonderful. Critics complain about a lack of plot, but the experience of seeing Cats live is so magical and moving that plot is irrelevant. The emotion of seeing it live means a recorded version can never do the show justice. I don't think anyone should see the video/DVD without first seeing the show live, as they could be disappointed. This also means that much of the choreography has been adjusted on the assumption that performers remain on stage throughout.

Having said that, the cast on the video/DVD comprises some of the most memorable performers of Cats over the years. Elaine Paige is the only acceptable Grizabella, and Ken Page is an excellent Deuteronomy (I preferred Brian Blessed, but he's too old now!!!!). The inclusion of John Mills means that Gus is played by someone of the right age, but it also means that the Growltiger sequence is excluded (John Mills could hardly transform himself into a young, bounding 'cat'!)

The dancing is stunning. Some of it is very sensuous. Youngsters won't get those nuances, but heterosexual men everywhere should fall instantly in love with Veerle Casteleyn's gorgeous eyes (one pleasant aspect of seeing the cast in close up!).

This is a fine way to remember the show (apart from the above cut), but not a good way to see it for the first time. I know it's quite difficult to find since it closed, but it is on tour in the UK (hopefully other productions are touring around the world). I've just seen it again (Wimbledon Theatre, the third time I've seen it). If the show is in your area, go and see it, and watch this video/DVD afterwards.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Hello, people! Where's Saruman?
I read the Lord of the Rings in 2002, and it took me around nine months. It was extremely heavy going, until well past page 900. I was surprised when I discovered that there was about another 100 pages to go after the ring was returned to Mount Doom. Those last 100 pages were the best in the whole book. Why? Because of the unexpected (and unwelcome) reappearance of Saruman in the Scouring of the Shire.

Fast forward to seeing the film (I have purchsed all three on a DVD set). I was already concerned when I read of Christopher Lee's part being cut. My worst fears were realized when the plot missed this hugely significant sequence altogether. This gaffe alone made this by a long way the least satisfying of the trilogy.

So to all you people who haven't read the book but have seen all three films, and proclaim this as "The best of all time", didn't you wonder what happened to Saruman? As for those who have read the book and still regard this as a masterpiece, shame on you!

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Roll on the DVD with director's cut
This is by a distance the best of the Harry Potter films so far. The performances of the three young principals are maturing, especially Emma Watson, who marvellously conveys the essence of Hermione, although she looks nothing like the character, because, well, Hermione is a plain-looking girl with buck teeth. Perhaps Emma Watson could be "plained up" for the fourth film, because two key scenes involve Hermione's appearance, one where Malfoy makes her teeth even longer, and the scene where she arrives at the Champions' Ball as Viktor Krum's partner and her new appearance (closer to what Emma Watson looks like) turns heads.

As for the other performances, I was delighted that there were fewer examples of adult performers playing their parts as pantomime characters. Gary Oldman was perfect as Sirius Black, as was David Thewlis as Lupin. Emma Thompson provided a wonderful turn as Trelawney. Timothy Spall I felt was too big for the snivelling Pettigrew, and Michael Gambon suffers, since anyone playing Dumbledore was never going to match Richard Harris's sense of a calm, protective, authority figure.

Unlike the last two films, especially the Chamber of Secrets, this film did not drag. In fact the action moved very quickly, perhaps a little too quickly. I can understand how there can be loose ends for anyone who has not read the book (who were Moony - note the spelling - Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs; why was Lupin able to read the Marauder's Map, but Snape couldn't). I also noticed that Paul Whitehouse - who Americans may not know is a British comedian - was cast in the role of Sir Cadogan, bit you only saw a very brief glimpse of a suit of armour in a scene stolen by Dawn French as the Fat Lady (what happened to Elizabeth Spriggs, the original Fat Lady?).

If my comments seem a bit pernickety, that doesn't alter my view that Alfonso Cuaron has succeeded wher Chris Columbus failed, and I wish that he could have been retained for later films, where the story gets even darker. What I would say, however, is that I truly hope that the DVD release will have not just deleted scenes, but the chance of seeing a "director's cut", including scenes which perhaps could have been left in the final cut.


Even an indifferent episode is better than the alternatives
In the UK we have the home grown medical dramas Casualty and its sister show Holby City. Putting these against ER is like comparing two Ladas to a Rolls Royce. The Brit shows look leaden, and have far too many hammy and wooden actors.

ER has set a very high standard of modern TV drama for 10 years. True, there have been the occasional duff episodes, but the urgency of the drama, combined with what looks like hand held camera work usually delivers punchy tension filled drama, with first rate performances.

Another contributor mentioned the only serious rival to ER, Chicago Hope, a show that was cheeky enough to have a character say "I was hoping to watch ER tonight", and had a hilarious scene which culminated in the death of a heart transplant patient! Unfortunately, that show suffered with the loss of Mandy Patinkin, and began taking itself too seriously. ER may have lost most of its mainstays, especially Anthony Edwards, but it still is a far better option than any other medical drama. I realise however, that it may struggle once Noah Wyle leaves.

Red Cap

OK vehicle for Tamzin Outhwaite
In recent years, some actors have found fame in soaps before going on to other things. Some of them have left EastEnders and gone into different shows (usually on ITV) which have been purely vehicles for them. For Ross Kemp, every role has been a variation on Grant Mitchell. Red Cap is Tamzin Outhwaite's effort to shake off her "sexiest female on TV" image which she was dubbed while playing Mel in EastEnders. She's also stayed with the BBC.

We have been here before. There was a series called "Redcap" (one word) in the 1960s about a military SIB sergeant, exactly the role played by Tamzin Outhwaite (Sgt Jo McDonagh). With the gritty scripts and often grainy appearance, the role of Jo McDonagh is definitely not Mel Healy Beale Owen. The plots are fairly well written, although there are too many contrived moments involving other females trying to undermine Sgt McDonagh, and always being proved wrong. There's an occasional sense that the editing and sound effects at dramatic moments is similar to CSI. I also dislike the moments of sexual tension, which only remind the viewer of Tamzin Outhwaite's past!

My only other criticism is that the show is too blatantly a star vehicle, meaning that the other cast members are playing second fiddle.

Nevertheless, this is an enjoyable series, and Tamzin Outhwaite is definitely not typecast - most of the time!

Dead Ringers

Better on radio
Listen to this on R4, and some of the impressions are aurally stunning. Jan Ravens' Anne Robinson is amazingly accurate, as is Jon Culshaw's Tom Baker/Dr Who (pity that it is out of date). Mark Perry must have cursed the day that Robin Cook resigned, as his unintelligible rants were a highlight. The biggest praise I can bestow on the show is that there have been several occasions (eg the Archers) where I am unable to tell whether it is Jon Culshaw, Mark Perry or Kevin Connolly doing the voice (Jan Ravens of course is fairly obvious, though). The show also built up its share of catchphrases, the favourite of which is "OH NO" as spoken by Ruth Archer (Americans probably haven't a clue who that is!). The spoof phone calls were a bit hit and miss, and usually funnier when the victim is a celebrity, like when Jon Culshaw as Brian Perkins called the real Brian Perkins.

All the above comments were about the radio show. The problem with transferring to TV is making the impressionists look like the people they're lampooning, and here the show falls down. The skill of the vocal mimicry can't disguise the fact that Jan Ravens cannot look like Sophie Raworth, Anne Robinson, Kirsty Wark or Nigella Lawson. Mark Perry is obviously quite a big man, considerably larger in stature than his voices (David Dickenson, Robin Cook), and Kevin Connolly always resembles himself. In fairness Jon Culshaw - "in character" - looks like a couple of his victims, but that's about it. The material - which seemed so sharp on the radio - is a bit tired in comparison. The "Candid Camera" stunts are as variable as the spoof phone calls, but you have to admire Jon Culshaw's improvisational skills in the various ridiculous situations in which he involves unsuspecting members of the public. My own favourite was "Michael Parkinson" interviewing people at a bus stop. Still a good if disappointing watch.

Keen eyed readers will notice that I have not referred to Phil Cornwell. I can only assume that he is in the show to give the idea that anyone can get on, however bad the impersonation. Yes, I do not see how he is able to share the stage with the four others, who do have talent for vocal mimicry. Phil Cornwell may have a sharp eye for comedy, but he is not an accurate impressionist. All the characters on Stella Street were OTT caricatures and were never meant to be seen as accurate, but that's not good enough on this show, where his Greg Dyke/Michael Caine is by far the biggest irritation.

Strong Medicine

The worst adaptation I've ever seen
SPOILER I couldn't believe the remarks from the Australian guy, unless he was being ironic. The adaptation includes characters that never existed in the book, Patrick Duffy's character getting killed off (in the book he survives and stays married to Celia throughout), the subsequent second marriage to Ben Cross's character (which was a one night stand in the book), and worst of all, the relationship between the characters Celia and Senator Donohue. In the book, Donohue is out to get Celia, because she humiliated him in front of a congressional hearing, and the start and end of the book (which is mostly in flashback) suggests that Donohue has won. The TV version ends with Donohue seeing Celia as a heroic figure, who then becomes President of the company.

I hope this rubbish never infects our TV screens again.

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